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Namru Gompa

 

Before I settled into my current kit of sepia-toned ink and recycled paper, I used to travel with a watercolor set, and painted little paintings. This was done, long ago on a trip to Nepal. We were traveling through an area called Nupri, one of the most untouched places I have ever been in my life. There was no glass in any window, no running water, no electricity, no corrugated metal roofs, very few mass produced goods at all, barely an old Coke bottle, and the people made their own homes, made their own clothes, grew their own food, and used no money, but instead, traded for what they needed. There was no blacksmith, and so they had to trade for metal. It was as if they were living in the Neolithic era.

However, this isolated valley, inhabited by people who lived in dry-laid stone longhouses, roofed over with huge rough-cut slabs of wood, a place where wealth was measured in yak wool, and wood-smoke hung like morning fog in the air, was one of the main evacuation routes out of Tibet during the years of the Cultural Revolution and the Red Guard.

Because of this, the tiny humble monasteries and gompas of the valley were crammed with absolutely beautiful, stunningly ancient and very important works of Tibetan art. These pieces have been smuggled out of Tibet to prevent them being destroyed in the fervor of the cultural Revolution, and were left behind at the first safe place the refugees had come to. We were allowed inside these beautiful little spaces, in this case, in a hamlet called Namru.  But I felt it was irresponsible to make an image of works of art which could be considered very valuable, and even worth stealing, so I focused instead on a papier-mâché ritual mask that was hanging from the beams of the ceiling. Masks like these come in a fantastic array of shapes and colors. This one more or less a kind of wrathful deity. More hung in grape-like clusters back in the darkness surrounded the jeweled Buddhas from Tibet.

As far as I know, at least some of the treasures are still tucked away in these tiny, unremarkable buildings, scattered through this beautiful, now slightly less untouched valley. Much has happened since then. Nupri was one of the hotbeds of Maoist rebel activity through the nineties. But these Maoists were local grown and less hard on the monasteries that their ideological brethren across the mountains had been. So I've heard. The bigger threat is probably from capitalist-minded collectors bribing the locals into selling the pieces.

The hike in has gotten easier in the years since I went. It would be a thing to do, to go back and see whether these objects, rescued from one form of human folly, fell,victim to another, or if they are still there, resting for a few short human eras, in the chapels of Nupri.



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